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Publisher's Summary

For almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical. It often begins in actors and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will start the cycle all over again. Americans love musicals. Americans invented musicals. Americans perfected musicals. But what, exactly, is a musical?

In The Secret Life of the American Musical, Jack Viertel takes musicals apart, puts them back together, sings their praises, marvels at their unflagging inventiveness, and occasionally despairs over their more embarrassing shortcomings. In the process, he invites us to fall in love all over again by showing us how musicals happen, what makes them work, how they captivate audiences, and how one landmark show leads to the next - by design or by accident, by emulation or by rebellion - from Oklahoma! to Hamilton and onward.

©2016 Jack Viertel (P)2016 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"An enlightening trip for lovers of musicals." ( Kirkus)

Featured Article: The Show Must Go On—Premier Audiobooks Now Playing for Theater Fans


A good play or musical is emblematic of what we love about entertainment—a chance to escape, to be fully immersed in another world, to engage with our most human emotions in a moment brought brilliantly to life by the talents of impeccable performers. It's possible to get your fix of the Great White Way in the comfort of your own home. Here are just a few of our favorite theater audiobooks to tide you over until curtain call.

What listeners say about The Secret Life of the American Musical

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Great review lacked music

Loved the story and the author but really would have been better with excerpts from the music

6 people found this helpful

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In love with the American Musical

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely! This is one of the most engaging and thoughtful audio books I have ever listened to.

What did you like best about this story?

Viertel is an insider whose love of the American musical is exceeded, perhaps, only by his vibrant insights and encyclopedic knowledge. The book is like a musical itself, with the chapters taking us from the overture to the 11 o'clock number--a perfect synchronization of content and form.

What does David Pittu bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The narrator channels Viertel's love and enthusiasm for the material and he is clearly familiar enough with the numerous song lyrics quoted in each chapter so that his reading maintains the rhythm and integrity of the lyrics. First rate job.

Any additional comments?

If you love the musical theatre, as I do, listen to this book and will come away loving it even more.

5 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

so good I need to buy the printed book

Where does The Secret Life of the American Musical rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Viertel has written an informed and informative exploration of classic american musicals.

What does David Pittu bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Pittu is an an excellent reader.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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ITS BETTER AS AN AUDIO BOOK !

Where does The Secret Life of the American Musical rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

top 15 audio books ever

Who was your favorite character and why?

I love all the voices and hearing the scenes played out

Which character – as performed by David Pittu – was your favorite?

any of hims Mama rose

2 people found this helpful

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If You Like Broadway Musicals, This Book Is A Must

If you're curious about what makes Broadway Musicals tick, you will find this book absolutely fascinating.
Mr. Viertel uses examples from some of the most successful Broadway shows to illustrate the structure of a musical.
This book is an eye opener for theater lovers.

1 person found this helpful

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An Informative Lecture

An enjoyable informative look at the American Musical, I will use some of the ideas with my own students.

1 person found this helpful

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So detailed

This book is packed with details about what makes a good musical and talks about specific aspects of many of the most famous musicals. Very valuable for anybody aspiring to write a musical. Also will help you appreciate the musicals you have seen or will see.

1 person found this helpful

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Absolutely loved it!

A fabulous history of the American musical theater presented as a course in craft. The author’s knowledge of his subject is encyclopedic, and the presentation is fascinating and entertaining. If you love the American musical theater, you’ll love this book!

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Very long but good

It took me forever to finish this. It gets slow at times but it has a lot of cool information and facts. The author is passionate about the craft and he also shares his perspective both as a professional and as a fan. Happy to have finally finished.

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    1 out of 5 stars

boring, snarky

not at all what I expected, attitude enough to choke you, very disappointed, but because I bought it on sale I can't return it.